2007 Sportsman of the Year (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday December 4, 2007 12:05AM; Updated: Tuesday December 4, 2007 8:37AM
One dark week in 2004 set the Favres reeling all over again. In October, Deanna's younger brother, Casey Tynes, was killed when he crashed his all-terrain vehicle, leaving behind a girlfriend who was eight months pregnant. Four days after Casey's funeral, Deanna learned she had breast cancer. As always, the Favres were overwhelmed by the outpouring in Green Bay -- bags of letters, innumerable prayer circles and many kind wishes murmured in the grocery aisle.
"People here treat us like family, and I think they care for us like family," says Deanna. "Because of everything we've been through, they don't see Brett as untouchable or as some kind of superhero. And they've been through it with us. The fans here feel close to Brett because they've all had their own similar struggles. Nothing against Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but I'm not sure their fans relate to them in the same way."
Favre grew up in tiny Kiln, Miss., "the Kill" as it's known on the Gulf Coast, a place his coach at Southern Mississippi, Curley Hallman, would memorably describe as "like The Dukes of Hazzard, minus the demolition derby." In a typical anecdote from Favre's youth, he was tossing a football to Scott but led him too much, sending his brother through a bay window of the family house. When the Favre boys weren't shooting each other with BB guns or feeding Oreos to alligators from the back porch or sneaking pinches of chewing tobacco -- of baby brother Jeff, Favre once said, "That son of a bitch could chew and spit when he was three years old" -- they were tagging along to sporting events with their father, who coached high school football and American Legion baseball in Kiln. Under Big Irv's watchful eye, Brett developed into a standout athlete, but he was imbued with none of the aloofness that the star quarterback has in every teen movie.
Credit Bonita for that. During her 16 years as a special-education teacher, Brett was a regular visitor to her classroom -- and not just during the two years when Deanna was an aide and he wanted to flirt. (She and Brett met in catechism when they were seven; they began dating when she was a high school sophomore and he was a freshman.)
Of her students, whose conditions ranged from common learning disabilities to severe developmental problems, Bonita says, "There was a time when people like that were locked away, but they have value. They can be productive members of society. I always made it clear to my children they weren't any better than the kids I taught."
Around Kiln there was a developmentally disabled man named Ronnie Hebert, who served as an equipment manager on Brett's youth baseball team and helped out with Big Irv's squads. Sensing that the other players felt awkward about sitting next to Hebert on the bus or sharing a table at restaurants, Brett always made an effort to include him. The two forged a lasting friendship and remained close enough that a few years ago, Deanna surprised her husband by flying Hebert in to be the guest speaker at a fund-raising dinner for Favre's charitable foundation. Says Deanna, "That night is as emotional as I've ever seen Brett, aside from when his dad passed away."